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Why I Believe in Santa Claus

December 23, 2019

KennyDollyAlbumI believe in Santa Claus, I’ll tell you why I do
‘Cause I believe that dreams and plans and wishes can come true
I believe in miracles, I believe in magic too
I believe in Santa Claus and I believe in you

Those lyrics are from one of my favourite holiday songs – “I Believe in Santa Claus”, from the Kenny Rogers / Dolly Parton “Once Upon a Christmas” album (you can listen to it here).

St.Nicholas

St. Nicholas

Did you know the origin of “Santa Claus” can be traced all the way back to the 3rd century A.D.? St. Nicholas of Myra, a Christian monk, was the patron saint of children (among other things). It is said his legendary habit of secret gift-giving gave rise to our modern-day Santa Claus (although it took several hundred years to get where we are today). St. Nicholas’s popularity spread to northern Europe, where it merged with Germanic folktales of elves and sky-chariots and Chriskind (“Christ Child”; also known as Kris Kringle), who was said to deliver presents to well-behaved Swiss and German children. Gradually Saint Nicholas became Sinterklaas (a shortened Dutch form of “Sint Nikolaas”) who was generally depicted as a tall, white-bearded man in red clerical robes who left gifts (or lumps of coal) at children’s homes on December 6 each year.

VisitFromSt.NicholasOriginalThe Dutch eventually brought Sinterklass and their Christmas-time traditions to the New World. The earliest record of a more “modern” depiction of Santa Claus was an 1809 portrayal by political satirist Washington Irving, who drew St. Nicholas as a portly Dutchman who flew through the skies in a wagon, dropping gifts down chimneys. Twenty-two years later, in 1823, another New Yorker, Clement Clarke Moore, penned a poem entitled, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas”. In it he switched the wagon with a sleigh pulled by “eight tiny reindeer” and described St. Nick as a “jolly old elf” who was “dressed all in fur from his head to his foot”. His poem is now known as “The Night Before Christmas.”

NastSantaNearly fifty years later (in 1881) political cartoonist Thomas Nast took Moore’s description of St. Nicholas and drew “Santa Claus” as a cheerful, rotund man in a bright red suit trimmed with fur. He also gave him with a full white beard, a sack filled with toys, a home – complete with workshop – at the North Pole, elves for helpers, and a wife, Mrs. Claus. Nast is considered to be “the man who invented Santa Claus”.

CocaColaSantaIn 1931 the Coca-Cola Company commissioned Michigan-born illustrator Haddon Sundblom to develop advertising images using a “real” Santa Claus (rather than “a man in a Santa Claus costume”). Sundblom used a friend who matched Moore’s description of St. Nicholas as a model, and his ads depict a Santa Claus most of us envision as being the “real deal”.

KrisKringle

Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle 

Santa Claus has appeared in nearly every Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade since 1924, and has “brought up the rear” of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of other Christmas parades (often called “Santa Claus Parades”). For nearly 100 years, children have lined up in department stores and malls to meet Santa, tell him what they want for Christmas, and have their picture taken with him. The most iconic of all department store Santas is probably Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) from the 1947 movie, “A Miracle on 34th Street”.

Visiting Santa 1962

Visiting Santa, 1962

I grew up in a small town just west of Ontario’s capital city of Toronto. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the only place to visit Santa Claus was at Eaton’s Toyland in Toronto. The Eaton’s Department Store hosted the annual Santa Claus Parade and opened up an entire floor each year as “Toyland” (with every kind of game, doll, train set, truck, and building set imaginable on display). They also had the most amazing animated window displays! Every year, we would watch the parade (LIVE) on TV (in mid-November); a few weeks later my mother would take my sister and me (and, later, my little brother) to Toronto on the bus to visit Toyland. We were allowed to select one toy to ask for when we met with Santa. I have photos from every visit from 1956 (when I was 3) to 1964 (yes, I still visited Santa at age 11!)

Son 1 With Santa 1983

December 1984; son #1 with Santa

When my eldest son was little, there was a dedicated “Christmas Store” on the highway that ran through the small town where my parents lived. On weekends in November and December Santa would stand outside, next to a full size sleigh, waving to passers-by and chatting with children who stopped at the store with their parents. He was, without a doubt, the “real deal”. He never asked my son his name (because Santa is supposed to KNOW each child) and when he asked my son if he’d been good (and, of course, he said, “Yes”), Santa would say things like, “Have you put your toys away every time your mom asked you to?”, “Have you brushed your teeth every single night?”, “Do you put your pajamas under your pillow every morning?” This absolutely reinforced the idea that “you better watch out …” (and, honestly, my son’s behavior DID improve over the remaining days until Christmas). NOTE: unfortunately, the Christmas store closed in the late 1980s. During our last Christmas visit, I stayed behind (after my Mom took my son into the store) to congratulate Santa on how well he played the role. The young man (he was around my age – early 30s maybe – at the time) explained that he had young children of his own, so he was well aware of the kinds of behaviours kids normally engaged in (which made it easy to suggest they weren’t being quite as “good” as they believed). He also said his wife brought his own children to “visit Santa” at the store, and they didn’t recognize their own father! How perfect a characterization is that?

MallSanta1989

Mall Santa; son #2, 1989

For the next 10 years, my boys visited Santa at one of our local malls; I was often disappointed in how unnatural some of them looked and acted (even though there are hundreds of “professional Santas” worldwide, many take on the role simply to earn a few dollars at Christmas-time, and they lack that special “something” that makes a great Santa). But I honestly don’t think the boys ever noticed!

The Christmas season of 2008 was a particularly rough one for me. Like everyone else, I’d watched nearly a third of my investments disappear overnight in September, I was crazy busy at work, and my father had gone from a prolonged hospital stay to a long-term care facility in the summer, only to be shuffled back and forth between the two with one medical problem after the other. The week before Christmas, he was back in hospital, and doing poorly. I remember wandering rather aimlessly around the mall, trying to focus my mind on Christmas shopping, when I spotted Santa Claus heading towards his “throne” in the mall’s central court. I was totally surprised when he detoured towards me, reached out and took my hand, and wished me a “Very Merry Christmas”. I smiled and wished him the same. My spirits lifted immediately and I managed to finish my shopping in a happier frame of mind. Such a simple thing – Santa wishing me a Merry Christmas – but so powerful! It was exactly what I needed that day.

Father&SonSantas

Father & Son Santas

My final Santa memory is more recent, and it doesn’t take place at Christmastime. In April of 2016, my husband and I purchased our dream home in the country. A month later, we put our city property up for sale, and received two competing offers within 72 hours. The first was presented by a realtor who pretty much told us all the things that were “wrong” with our house that the potential buyers (her son and daughter-in-law) planned on changing. I wasn’t impressed (naturally). The second offer was not only for slightly more money – but the buyer was (are you ready for this?) SANTA CLAUS (two Santas, actually – a father and son who are both professional Santas). Naturally, we accepted their offer. I mean, how could you possibly say “No” to Santa Claus when he wants to buy your house? (And the little girl who lived next door was beyond excited when we told her who was moving in!)

My StockingI still smile when I see children patiently waiting in line to visit Santa. I eagerly anticipate receiving the annual photo of my granddaughter’s visit with “the jolly man in red.” I hang up my stocking for Santa to fill on Christmas Eve (it’s not very big; I’ve had it since I was around eight years old, when I received it after visiting Santa at Eaton’s Toyland and a nice lady with a sewing machine stitched my name on it while I waited). For me, Christmas is a time of hope and faith and wonder and a belief in miracles and magic. So – yes, I still believe in Santa Claus, even though I’m on … the other side of 55.

 

8 Comments
  1. December 27, 2019 10:23 am

    This post is THE BEST. I absolutely love it. The Santa stories are so endearing but the fact that two Santas bought your former home…perfect ending!! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and that Santa treated you well (why wouldn’t he after you wrote about him so nicely??). Wishing you all the best in 2020. ❤

    • December 27, 2019 10:31 am

      Thank you! Yes, Santa did come to my house and brought everything on my wish list! Here’s to a wonderful and prosperous New Year for you and yours!

  2. Colleen K permalink
    December 25, 2019 3:52 am

    Margo, I needed this! Merry Christmas!

    Colleen

  3. December 24, 2019 1:42 pm

    I just love that Santa bought your house!

    • December 24, 2019 2:55 pm

      Apparently they put a sleigh out front the first year, and had people showing up to have photos taken with Santa (the neighbours complained, though – its a busy street with no parking). They’re still there (I guess it was just too cold at the North Pole!) LOL!

  4. December 24, 2019 11:09 am

    Delightful story, Margo. I can sure see why you are a believer!
    One year I took my three kids to see Santa at the company Christmas party. Santa was one of our best friends and he did an excellent job. Two of our kids had no idea it was our friend. The third quietly told me that though she believed in Santa, this Santa wasn’t the real one. When I asked her why she thought that, she said this Santa was wearing our good friends shoes…
    Merry Christmas!

    • December 24, 2019 11:23 am

      Kids are way more observant than we give them credit for! Merry Christmas!

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